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Medical debt: A threat to the insured and uninsured

Adobe Robertson10.jpegIn America, medical debt is one of the few things that can quickly take someone from living a wealthy lifestyle to the edge of bankruptcy. It's not easy to overcome debts when they're in the thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars. It's hard to imagine, but a single medical bill for a few nights in the hospital could be in the tens of thousands.

Even with insurance, there are issues that can lead to overwhelming debt. For instance, you probably know that you have to select from in-network professionals when you seek care. However, there is no guarantee that lab tests or assistants who work with your provider won't be out-of-network facilities or professionals. That means you could end up with a bill you're not expecting, even though you tried to stay within the requirements your insurance company set.

What can you do to avoid medical debt from out-of-network providers?

To start with, you should request that your lab tests and any assistants on the case are within your network. You can ask the medical office or hospital to check before allowing people to work on your case. In an emergency, this might not be possible, but in other situations where you're going through standard treatments or have an upcoming surgery, you should have the option of choosing whom you work with.

Another thing you can do is reach out to your insurance company. They sometimes make exceptions for medical providers who are not in-network if you can show that there are no other providers who can provide your needed medical care.

Make sure you understand your insurance coverage. There are usually deductibles and co-pays to cover, and there could be maximums that limit how much the insurance company pays overall.

You'll want to know about these limits to prevent charges that extend beyond what your insurance company will pay. You also want to choose a deductible and a plan that has maximum out-of-pocket amounts that you are comfortable paying. Some deductibles can still range into the tens of thousands, so it's always wise to choose your insurance plan carefully.

If you do end up with a large medical bill, it's a good idea to contact the provider or hospital right away. You should be able to negotiate for lower prices or set up a payment plan. If the amount is too much to handle, bankruptcy is a possible option in the future.

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